The now over-the-hill catchphrase “think outside the box” associated the act of brainstorming with the idea of being free from any sort of structure. If we could just open up our minds to a “blue sky” of possibilities it seemed to say, we’d soon hit upon a miraculous and innovative solution. Easier said, than done.
These days, when we sit in front of the box to end all boxes – the personal computer – for hours on end, multitasking ourselves until we forget what we were doing two seconds ago, a little structure goes a long way. And maybe it always did.
Whether you’re headed into a meeting to generate ideas for “the next big thing” or just developing out concepts for new features or product lines, staying focused within your objectives, who you invite to the table, and next steps is key.
1. Don't brainstorm as a committee. Keep brainstorming groups small (ideally four people or less). For larger groups, try to break them into smaller brainstorming pods, and then circle back to discuss your conclusions with the larger group.
2. Engage a diverse group. Gather people from different backgrounds, experiences, and interests. New ideas don’t come from a bunch of people who look exactly alike sitting around a table agreeing with each other. The best ideas happen when unique perspectives/opinions are given a level playing field and can “spar” a bit.
3. Ask the right questions to build context, a brief, and core values. The group should all be on board before venturing into the unknown. Sometimes, certain questions that "frame" the discussion are helpful. For example, an upscale, well-designed, environmentally friendly hotel chain might ask, “If GOOD magazine and Apple created a hotel, what would it look like?”
4. For multiple decisions, hold multiple brainstorming sessions with a specific goal stated for each one. Cramming too many objectives into a single brainstorming session usually means sacrificing clear results on a one topic for a mediocre outcome spread across many.
5. Leave the meeting with Action Steps. Now that you’ve got some great new ideas, don’t forget to do something with them. Hold each person accountable for always moving the ball forward.
***This post by J.K. Glei is based on research by the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.